Question 2, which Marylanders will vote on eight days from now, is the worst possible way to return this form of legalized gambling to the state. It should be rejected.
The ballot initiative, pushed through the “emergency session” of the General Assembly last fall by Gov. Martin O’Malley and Senate President Mike Miller, is very different from the slots proposals that Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich tried to enact before his term ended in January, 2007.
Mr. Ehrlich was fighting an uphill battle to limit the growth in government and viewed slot-machine revenue as a way to pay for needed state services without tax increases. By contrast, Question 2 has a very different purpose. Mr. O’Malley, the General Assembly’s liberal bloc and a few Republicans (who should know better) want to enact a new brand of socialism, including O’Malley-Care, which expands Medicaid coverage to an additional 100,000 recipients.
These lawmakers need slots revenue in order to sell the idea for a massive expansion of government-funded health care in Maryland without large-scale tax increases. But the dirty little secret is that slot-machine revenue will almost certainly be inadequate to pay for all of the new health-care spending schemes that Annapolis has in mind. Theirs is a plan that includes thousands of households headed by illegal aliens.
Maryland politicians are betting that the voters will not realize that Mr. O’Malley, Mr. Miller and their political allies are sowing the seeds of fiscal disaster until after all of the new benefits are enacted into law. By then, of course, it will probably be too late to do very much about it. And they may be right: Polls indicate that more than 60 percent of voters plan to vote for the referendum.
In fact, Annapolis is seemingly taking the state down the path of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG and Lehman Brothers. Earlier this year, Moody’s credit rating agency expressed concern that Maryland officials were too reliant on slots to raise revenue. The state’s own projections, which say that between 2009 and 2013 slots were projected to yield between $453 million and $604 million a year, were termed “overly optimistic” by Moody’s.
But none of this has intruded on the spending plans of Mr. O’Malley and the others in and outside Annapolis. Estimates issued by the nonpartisan Maryland Department of Legislative Services put the cost of O’Malley-Care at $185 million in fiscal 2009, jumping to $800 million by 2013.
That is just the beginning. In May, the Maryland Health Quality and Cost Council began hearings on providing care to an estimated 800,000 uninsured Marylanders - eight times the number of people who would be covered by O’Malley-Care. The only problem is that slots cannot possibly bring in enough revenue to pay for this.
If Question 2 is defeated, the political establishment would be forced to confront economic reality - instead of pretending there is a fiscally painless way to bring socialized medicine to Maryland. Maryland voters should vote against Question 2.